Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report

The February dossier

The genesis of the February dossier

108. What was to become known as the 'dodgy dossier' began as a proposal of the Iraq Communications Group chaired by Alastair Campbell, who described the purpose of the paper as being "to get our media to cover this issue of the extent to which Saddam Hussein was developing his programme of concealment and intimidation of the United Nations' inspectors."[156] Mr Campbell told us that it was his idea to produce the paper.[157]

The process of compiling the dossier

109. In January 2003, new intelligence was received that the Iraqi regime was obstructing the work of the UNMOVIC inspectors. The Secret Intelligence Service gave permission for that information to be used publicly, and the Iraq Communications Group tasked the Communications and Information Centre (which later became the Coalition Information Centre, CIC) with producing a background briefing paper for the press, which was eventually to become the 'dossier'.[158] Alastair Campbell described for us the origins of the CIC:

The Coalition Information Centre started as an entity during the Kosovo conflict where it was made up of people from different government departments and also from people from other overseas governments, the United States, Spain, France I think at some point, Germany, a number of governments. In terms of how they are appointed, once we were setting up this cross-departmental team, which continues in a smaller form now, essentially what happens is we trawl departments to try to find people who can be seconded … for three months, six months, what have you.[159]

110. The CIC is based in the FCO, and the FCO is represented on it.[160] The CIC used FCO and Ministry of Defence documents in preparing the dossier, as well as intelligence material, but the controversy has centred on its use of previously published material.

111. Sir Michael Jay described the process by which the dossier was compiled:

I think what happened was that the CIC were asked, or tasked, by Alastair Campbell and the Iraq Communication Group to produce the briefing note; they then asked various government departments to produce for them background information which could go into the note. Some of that came from the Foreign Office, some of that came from other government departments, and some of that information was from Government sources and some of that information was from published sources, and that was then fed into the CIC.[161]

Mr Campbell was asked by the Committee to submit a written statement separating intelligence from open source information in the February dossier. Mr Campbell was forthcoming with regards to this request, however, he was not authorised by the SIS to go into greater detail.[162]

112. Our own analysis based on Dr Glen Rangwala's written evidence has revealed that almost the entire second part was taken from three articles which corresponds to Mr Campbell's confirmation that only the first and third part of the dossier were backed by SIS information.[163] Dr Rangwala also pointed out to the Committee that several claims made in the first part, which Mr Campbell explicitly refers to as intelligence information, are in open contradiction to Dr Blix's and UNMOVIC's accounts.

113. The material had been cleared for use by the SIS, but not by the JIC, which is supposed to have an overview of all intelligence material and the uses to which it is put. The procedure has since been changed. The FCO told us that "The document was not cleared by the JIC. Systems are now in place to ensure that any intelligence material which is made available publicly will first be authorised by the JIC Chairman."[164] We welcome this change.

114. The CIC appears to have operated as an autonomous unit within the FCO, chaired by a senior FCO official but reporting to Alastair Campbell.[165] The FCO as a whole was unsighted on its work. We were surprised to be told that "No FCO Ministers, neither FCO Special Advisers, were consulted on the document."[166] On Thursday 30 January, the document was given to the FCO with a "short deadline for comment."[167] It must have been very short indeed, as we now know that the document was handed to journalists in Washington for the Prime Minister's visit the next day, having been signed off by Mr Campbell.[168]

115. Sir Michael Jay explained why he personally had not been informed:

I would not have expected to have been informed about a document which was being prepared as a briefing document of that kind; there were briefing documents of this sort being produced several times every day of the week by the CIC, that was its purpose, its purpose was to produce briefing documents, those were then used by ministers or by Number 10 to brief the press, this was happening daily. So the fact that such a document was being produced as a briefing document I would not have expected, myself, to have been aware of or to have seen; this is all part of the give and take of business. What was different was when it became a document put into Parliament.[169]

116. The document became a document put into Parliament on the first sitting day after it had been handed to the press—Monday 3 February. The Prime Minister was making a statement to the House on his US visit, and it was decided to place the document in the Library of the House, which is a way of making a paper available to Members with the minimum of formality.

117. No Minister, other than the Prime Minister, was consulted on the document at any stage.[170] Neither the Secretary to the Cabinet nor the Chairman of the JIC saw the dossier in draft or in final form.[171] Alastair Campbell failed to ask the Prime Minister or the Chairman of the JIC for authority to release a document which stated on its cover that it was compiled from intelligence and other sources. By the time the Prime Minister authorised it to be placed in the Library of the House,[172] it had already been handed to journalists, and it was already effectively in the public domain.

118. In his Memorandum to the Committee Mr Campbell stated that the February dossier, as he recalled "was my idea".[173] In his oral evidence to the Committee Mr Campbell also said that he took responsibility for the February dossier.[174] On the front page of the dossier it is clearly stated in the very first sentence: "This report draws upon a number of sources, including intelligence material …"

119. Before releasing the document to the press and to Parliament, Mr Campbell failed to ask two basic questions. First he failed to ask whether the material in the document was predominantly intelligence material or not. This caused the Prime Minister to state to the House on 3 February: "We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up. It is the intelligence that they are receiving, and we are passing it on to people." Most of the document was not in fact intelligence material.

120. The second basic question that Mr Campbell failed to ask about the February dossier was what were the non-intelligence sources being used and why they were not attributed. Failure to ask this question caused the plagiarisation error not to be to picked up before the document was published with serious consequences for the presentation of the Government's case on Iraq.

121. We conclude that the degree of autonomy given to the Iraqi Communications Group chaired by Alastair Campbell and the Coalition Information Centre which reported to him, as well as the lack of procedural accountability, were contributory factors to the affair of the 'dodgy dossier'.

122. The Committee also concludes that the process of compiling the February dossier should have been more openly disclosed to Parliament. As Mr Campbell has stated:

… the procedures were different. On the dossier of September 2002 the lead person was the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, it was produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee; the dossier in February was not.[175]

Had this information been available to the House at the time, much of the confusion could have been avoided.

The use made in the dossier of Mr Marashi's published work

123. Ibrahim al-Marashi is an American citizen of Iraqi origin. A Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, his work has focused on the diffusion of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and missile technologies in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Iran. Prior to joining CNS, Mr Marashi worked with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University on a project classifying captured Iraqi state documents. He has also been a researcher on Iran-Iraq affairs at the US State Department, Congressional Research Service, and National Defense University. He is now a DPhil student at St Antony's College, Oxford.

124. In 2002, Mr Marashi published an article in the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs, MERIA, based on his analysis of Iraqi intelligence documents captured in the Gulf War.[176] It was this article which formed the basis of part 2 of the 'dodgy dossier', as Alastair Campbell confirmed when he appeared before us:

… the Foreign Office research department sent this journal from September 2002 by Dr al-Marashi, who you interviewed recently. That then went to the CIC. At that point within the CIC work from that paper was taken and absorbed into the draft that was being prepared within the CIC.[177]

125. Finding the article was not exactly an exercise in advanced detective work. As Mr Marashi told us:

The only way I can infer they got hold of this article was that not only is it published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs but there is also an on-line version. If one were to do an internet search of Iraqi intelligence agencies on any of the web browsers my article is the first to come up. Basically, it was one of the first articles ever written compiling all the open source information on Iraq's intelligence agencies, so on any kind of internet service this would be the first article that would come up. I had reason to believe that the internet version of this article was consulted for the dossier released in February 2003 because grammatical mistakes made on the internet version ended up in this February 2003 document …[178]

In his written evidence, Dr Glen Rangwala of Newnham College, Cambridge, has shown how Mr Marashi's work was altered in a number of particulars:

For example, most of p.9 on the functions of the Mukhabarat (General Intelligence) is copied directly from Mr Marashi's article. However, Marashi writes of the Mukhabarat's role in:

"monitoring foreign embassies in Iraq".

This becomes in the British dossier:

"spying on foreign embassies in Iraq".

Similarly, on the same page, Marashi writes that the Mukhabarat had a role in:

"aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes"

The British dossier renders this as:

"supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes".[179]

These were clearly changes of substance. Mr Marashi told us they were not supported by his research: "the alterations were not accurate and those alterations changed the meaning of … my piece."[180]

126. Mr Campbell and Ministers maintain that, although the changes may not be supported by Mr Marashi's work, they did reflect intelligence assessments and they were accurate.[181] However, in one further change, the Government confused two separate Iraqi security organisations, the Military Security Service and the Iraqi General Security Service. As Mr Straw said when confronted with this, it is hardly a hanging offence.[182] But Mr Straw here missed the point: as he had earlier acknowledged, quite minor mistakes of this kind undermine confidence in the Government's presentation of its case more generally.[183] Mr Marashi has also accused those responsible for the dossier of "distorting the intent" behind his work.[184]

127. Not only was Mr Marashi's work altered in ways which changed its meaning, it was used without attribution. This, Mr Campbell has acknowledged, was the "error" and the "mistake" made in the CIC.[185] Once it had been made, all those involved subsequently were unaware of the source of the material, but assumed it to have been produced somewhere within the Government machine.[186] It was in itself a small mistake, but its consequences were significant, and it should not have occurred.

128. No-one asked Mr Marashi for permission to use his work. No-one informed him that it would be used, and even altered, a fact which Clare Short finds "shameful" and "shocking".[187] We asked Mr Marashi how he came to hear that his work had been borrowed by the British Government:

I found out through an e-mail by Glen Rangwala from Cambridge. He asked me if I had collaborated with this dossier. I said I was not even aware of this dossier. In fact, he was the one who sent me the text of the dossier I have here, so it was not until he had sent it that I was made aware of this document. I was made aware of the similarities. I did not take any action beyond that. I just compared the documents, knew there was a plagiarism, but I just left it at that. Given the fact that I had relatives back in Iraq I do not want to bring attention to this. The story developed a life of its own in the UK and so by Thursday, I believe it was February 7, I saw the story break on the internet and then it took off from there.[188]

129. Once the story broke, Mr Marashi gave press interviews, but he had misgivings about his new high profile. He feared that a link between his work and a document closely associated with the British Government's policy on Iraq could endanger his relatives:

… the biggest fear I had out of this whole story breaking out was that I am an Iraqi myself and when I wrote this article I did not think it would get much of a circulation, maybe 5,000 people at the most, people in the Middle East academic community. What the events have done to me around February and March was that basically they connected me to the British case for going to war and, having relatives in Iraq with my last name connected to me in the UK would have been disastrous for them. I have already lost two relatives to the Saddam regime. Any connection now between me and the UK Government and the case for going to war would have had a disastrous effect on my family back home. That was my biggest regret out of this entire affair.[189]

130. Mr Marashi told us that he had received no apology, nor had any contact from the British Government of any kind.[190] Subsequently, Jack Straw apologised to Mr Marashi before the Committee on behalf of the Government; and Alastair Campbell undertook to apologise in writing.[191] We welcome this belated recognition by the Government, under pressure from this Committee, that they did Mr Marashi a grave disservice by using his work without permission and without attribution, and by altering it without making clear where and how it had been altered.

131. Notwithstanding the apologies which have now been made, we remain concerned about the fate of Mr Marashi's extended family in Iraq. We recommend that the Government offer every assistance to Mr Marashi in tracing his relatives in Iraq.

"A glorious, spectacular own goal"

132. In the House on 3 February 2003, the day of publication of the 'dodgy dossier', the Prime Minister said

We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up. It is the intelligence that they are receiving, and we are passing it on to people. In the dossier that we published last year, and again in the material that we put out over the weekend, it is very clear that a vast amount of concealment and deception is going on.[192]

133. The intelligence material on Iraq's obstruction of UNMOVIC inspectors which provoked the idea of what became the 'dodgy dossier' was provided to the Iraq Communications Group and cleared for public use by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), without clearance by the Joint Intelligence Committee.[193] This procedure was inadequate, as Sir Michael Jay told us:

I think, as I said, that the way in which this particular document was prepared was faulty, and I think we all accept that, and we have taken steps and done all we can to ensure that that does not happen again, and, in a sense, it is always useful to learn lessons from mistakes.[194]

Henceforth, the JIC will have to approve for publication any document which includes intelligence-derived information. We welcome this sensible change.

134. It was Robin Cook who described the February dossier as "a glorious, spectacular own goal."[195] Other witnesses used less colourful language, but agreed that publishing the dossier was a mistake, which severely damaged the Government's case.[196] The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that the document should not have been published at all,[197] a sentiment shared by the Foreign Secretary and Mr Campbell.[198] Jack Straw went further and called it "a complete Horlicks."[199] The Prime Minister referred to "the mistake of not attributing it."[200] Mr Campbell has admitted that "It should not have happened in the way that it did."[201] He has to take responsibility for that, because it was done under his authority.

135. From the evidence provided, it seems safe to say that Mr Campbell did not intentionally contribute to Parliament being misinformed. However, it was Mr Campbell's responsibility to ensure that, when providing such a pivotal document, sufficient attention to detail was paid. He failed to do so, thereby committing a mistake. By the same token, the danger is that future JIC dossiers will be received with increased scepticism. The bar to misleading Parliament could have easily been overstepped

136. We conclude that the effect of the February dossier was almost wholly counter-productive. By producing such a document the Government undermined the credibility of their case for war and of the other documents which were part of it.

137. We further conclude that by referring to the document on the floor of the House as "further intelligence" the Prime Minister—who had not been informed of its provenance, doubts about which only came to light several days later—misrepresented its status and thus inadvertently made a bad situation worse.

138. We conclude that it is wholly unacceptable for the Government to plagiarise work without attribution and to amend it without either highlighting the amendments or gaining the assent of the original author. We further conclude that it was fundamentally wrong to allow such a document to be presented to Parliament and made widely available without ministerial oversight.

139. We recommend that any paper presented to Parliament—whether laid on the Table, made available in the Vote Office or placed in the Library—for the purpose of explaining the Government's foreign policy be signed off by a FCO Minister. We further recommend that any FCO document presented to Parliament which draws on unofficial sources should include full transparency of sources, and attribution where appropriate.

156   Q 1045 Back

157   Ev 7 Back

158   Qq 900 (Alastair Campbell), 786, 863 (Sir Michael Jay); Ev 10 Back

159   Q 1004 Back

160   Q 865 (Sir Michael Jay) Back

161   Q 867 (Sir Michael Jay) Back

162   Ev 10 Back

163   Ev 30. See also Appendix 3, (to be published in Volume III) Back

164   Ev 47. See also Q 948 (Alastair Campbell) Back

165   Qq 787, 794, 865 Back

166   Ev 47 Back

167   Ev 47 Back

168   Q 878 (Sir Michael Jay), Q 922 (Alastair Campbell) Back

169   Q 883 Back

170   Q 739 (Jack Straw) Back

171   Qq 928-932 (Alastair Campbell). Back

172   Q 822 (Jack Straw), Ev 7 Back

173   Ev 7 Back

174   Q 1013 Back

175   Q 926 Back

176   Ibrahim al-Marashi, Iraq's Security and Intelligence Network; a Guide and Analysis, Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol 6, No. 3-September 2003, Back

177   Q 904 Back

178   Q 662 Back

179   Ev 22 Back

180   Q 680 Back

181   Q 926 (Alastair Campbell), Qq 795, 848, 1049 (Jack Straw) Back

182   Q 797 Back

183   Q 795 Back

184   Q 683 Back

185   Ev 7, Q 898 Back

186   Qq 909, 926, 946, 1048 Back

187   Qq 122, 123 Back

188   Q 678 Back

189   Q 668 Back

190   Qq 666, 668 Back

191   Qq 851, 1152 Back

192   HC Deb, 3 February 2003, col 25 Back

193   Q 939 (Alastair Campbell) Back

194   Q 895. See also Q 380 (Dame Pauline Neville Jones) Back

195   Q 10 Back

196   Q 381 (Dame Pauline Neville Jones) Back

197   For example, see: Dodgy Iraq dossier was error, says Blunkett, Daily Telegraph, 9 June 2003 Back

198   Qq 818, 920 Back

199   Q 818 Back

200   HC Deb, 24 June 2003, col 1046 Back

201   Q 920 Back

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